The Computer Blog

Sunday, January 23, 2005

iLife05 – First Impressions

My copy of iLife05 arrived on Friday. I installed it on my G5 iMac and compared it to iLife04 installed on my dual 1.25GHz G4 PowerMac. All in all, I’m impressed. It was definitely worth the money. I bought the Family Pack for only $20 more, so I have enough licenses to install it on every Mac in my house. (We have five.)

iPhoto has changed the most. The addition of the Adjust window now lets you adjust several parameters that previously required you to use third party applications was the biggest change, though there are other more subtle changes to the interface. iDVD5 not only contains new themes but now sports a progress bar that gives you an idea of how far into the encoding and burn processes you are, a great improvement over previous versions’ horizontal barberpole that only told you it was working. Beside it, there’s even a thumbnail that shows what scene the process is working when encoding. If you know your footage, then you know right where it is. iMovie also sports several sleek interface changes and adds effects and transitions, and Garbage Band does the same. The only downside I’ve seen so far in the package is that encoding in iDVD5 is slower than iDVD4’s when set at “Best Quality”.

I’ll publish a review of the package as soon as I can, hopefully in the next week. Right now, I can tell you I’d rate it four out of five AndyZone CD’s.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Broken Mouse

I can’t remember a time when a mechanical failure with a mouse forced me to stop using it. Unfortunately, I am experiencing that now with a Logitech MX 500. The right mouse button goes through cycles of sticking, something that drives me nuts. I’m on the second cycle, and I’ve once again packed the mouse back in its original box with the hopes of contacting Logitech and getting them to repair the thing. I just bought it in October, so it’s still covered by the factory warranty.

I pulled out a Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer 4.0 with Tilt Wheel to replace it but really don’t like it as well as I do the Logitech mice, even though the latter don’t have tilt wheel functionality. I’ve discovered that my 20 inch screen makes that almost unneeded, anyway. I really like what Logitech calls “Cruise Control”, which are small buttons ahead of and behind their mice’s wheel buttons that tell the computer screen’s vertical scrolling bars to move up and down. Microsoft mice have an “auto scroll” functions, too, but I find it easier to just push a button than drive an arrow up and down on a screen the Microsoft way.

I put the MX500 back in its box and replaced it with a Logitech MX510. The MX 510 is lighter than the MX500 and has a better feel, has the same functionality, and is royal blue. We’ve been running the MX510 on two iMacs here and both my wife and I like them and have had no problems. I’m happy I’ve got one on my PC now, too, though I really hated to spend $50 on a replacement mouse right now.

What ever happened to the $5 mouse?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Notes on Apple's Mac mini

The Mac mini is a cost effective way to break into the Mac universe, but that’s true only if you don’t stray too far from the standard configuration and you have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to hook up to it.

Since I hope to buy one in the future, I decided to look at the economics of ordering the slower model (1.25GHz) and equipping it with a 80 GB hard disk like its faster brother, upgrading memory to 512MB, and replacing the SuperDrive with a combo drive. It was still slightly cheaper than equipping the faster machine (1.42GB) with a 512MB stick and a SuperDrive but the difference was on the order of $50. So, if you’re going to buy a Mac mini, be sure you go to the Apple website and price out configurations using both the $499 and $599 base systems.

Another thing about the mini is that, unlike the new iMac, it is not user configurable or repairable.

The other thing about the device is that there is only one memory slot.

The immediate impact of both is that you cannot upgrade the system yourself. To upgrade memory to 512Mb or higher, you must order the system that way or have the memory installed by an authorized Apple Service center. Neither of those options are exactly cheap. Apple is known for its inflated memory prices. Most people, including me, buy memory from third party vendors if we want to expand a system’s memory. I did that with my new 20 inch G5 iMac. Its meager 256MB of memory was replaced by a single 1 GB DIMM on sale at MicroCenter. I took the 256MB stick and added that to my wife’s 17 inch G5 iMac to kick hers up to 512MB. Like Windows XP, Mac OS X performs better with at least 512MB of memory. I would not run either operating system on less, but then I do run major applications, sometimes several at a time.

(Update on January 18, 2005- MacWorld is reporting that Apple has told them you can upgrade the Mac mini's memory yourself as long as you don't break anything when you do. If this is true, I retract the above and will be looking ar buying a Mac mini and doing the upgrade myself unless the cost difference is not worth my time.)

I said in an earlier blog I wanted a G4 in the house, and the Mac mini seems to be a great answer. On both the Windows and Mac platforms, I have found it handy to keep copies of earlier operating systems. I’ve already discovered that my G5 will not boot up on Firewire hard disks running anything less than 10.3 (Panther). Panther disabled a software application I needed that would run on Jaguar and earlier. I have no doubt that Tiger will do the same. No matter what platform I’m running on, I don’t like losing capability. That’s why I’d like to have a G4 that will run older OS’s.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

More About Apple's “Pages”

My first thought when I read about “Pages”, Apple’s new word processor, was that it was more of a desktop publisher than a word processor. But then I let Apple’s marketing hype override that impression and wrote yesterday’s musings about Pages Vs MS Word. Today, I stand corrected because of a web article by a MacWorld staffer who validated my first impression, i.e., Pages is more a desktop publishing application than a word processor.

When the PC revolution started back in the 80’s, the differences between word processors and desktop publishers were more apparent. Since then, as the PC market (and I am including the Mac in that term) has become more sophisticated and software makers have strained to differentiate their products, the line has become more blurred. Most word processors today are a hybrid of true word processors and desktop publishing applications. That’s why Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect, among others, come with templates that allow you to make everything from brochures to labels to calendars.

The MacWorld writer thought that Pages was Apple’s answer to the killing of Adobe Pagemaker for the Mac. I disagree. From what I’ve seen of Pages (and admittedly that hasn’t been a lot), it’s more akin to Microsoft Publisher or MacKiev’s PrintShop than PageMaker. PageMaker’s replacement on the Adobe side of the house was and is In Design. PageMaker might have ended its reign on both the Windows and Mac platforms as a “small business and home use” app, but it began life as THE professional product for desktop publishing on the personal computer. It was PageMaker and the laser printer that made the desktop publishing trail.

More About the “Mac mini”

I’ve already told my wife I want a Mac mini. Okay, that makes me crazy! Most of you probably had already guessed that, but I digress. Having a G5 iMac to use has impressed upon me the need to keep a G4 based Mac around.

Why do I say that? I have a copy of Jaguar loaded onto a partition of a LaCie 120GB external hard disk, and I keep it because one of my CD/DVD disk labeling applications will not run on OS 10.3 or above. My G5 iMac will not boot from that partition. My dual 1.25 Ghz G5 MDD PowerMac will. While I’m not in a hurry to replace it with a version of the dual G5 PowerMac, at some point later in the year, I hope to. Just like I’m hoping within the next year that Apple will come out with a G5 PowerBook.

The Mac mini is so small it will finder under the bottom sill of my 20 inch Apple Cinema Display it will drive! I already have a DVI to ADC adapter on the display to use it with my XP PC. I can set the Mac mini on the same desk without losing any desktop footprint (actually, more efficiently using what I have) and simply disconnect the PC and hook up the display to the mini when I want to use it.

On both the Windows and Mac platforms, I seem to have some applications that run better (and sometimes only run!) on older operating platforms. The Mac mini is a great way to ensure I can still run those applications and yet not have to sock in my office with another desk, monitor, keyboard, or mouse.

As soon as I can get the stuff I’ve recently bought paid for, I’ll buy one. (Maybe sooner! If I really get a wild hair, I might pull $500 out of savings and order one so I can get a review of it up on this site as soon as they come out!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

HITS and MISSES: Macworld Expo Apple Product Announcements

Well, there’s no doubt now that Apple is trying to capitalize on the iPod’s popularity with the introduction of the Mac Mini.

HIT-Now, some friends of mine have already questioned why Apple is attempting to resurrect the Cube. That’s a good question. Yet, I do believe the timing is right to introduce a relatively inexpensive Mac, and being so small will enable it to fit in almost anywhere. Not to mention that its simple design is still rather stylish. I call the Mac Mini overall a “hit”.

One of the unsung beauties of the design is that it’s so small you can now have a truly portable desktop. Set up monitors, keyboards, and mice at each frequently used location and then haul the machine back and forth. Expensive? Not when compared to the cost of a Powerbook. This might be the ideal machine for college students who don’t want or need a notebook to take to class but still want a portable machine for use at school or at home. And you can secure the thing by locking it up inside a desk drawer!

MISS- Yet, the “inclusion of a Combo drive vice a DVD burner as standard equipment is a bad idea. The major idea behind the computer is to hook new users on the capability and integration of the Mac, iLife 05, specifically. Putting a combo drive in the Mac mini as standard hobbles iLife’s capabilities, i.e., you can’t use iDVD for anything, a fact that also impacts iMovie. That may prove ultimately to be the machine’s Achilles Heel and may show Apple up as a “penny wise but pound foolish” company. Yes, you can order the machine with a Built-To-Order Superdrive; but how many people not already familiar with the Mac platform will know to do that? How fewer will want to pay for it?

HIT- iLife 05 has several new features that make it appear to be a hit. iDVD finally will support DVD+R and DVD+/-RW as well as DVD-R. Both iMovie and iDVD will now handle High Definition (HD) video. iPhoto seems to have opened its file management capabilities a bit and may know allow me to finally just have one set of folders that are available from Finder or iPhoto and reside in the same place. (Not sure if I understand that piece correctly.) The Apple ads also state that iPhoto will now produce “cinematic” slide shows, and I’m not sure how that is better than the slideshows it will already produce. But I’ll let you know. I’ve already ordered the iLife 05 Family Pack. It’s due here by Jan 22nd.

MISS- While HD is admittedly the “up and coming” standard, it definitely is not at the consumer level, yet. In fact, I suspect it will be at least a year if not two before HD camcorders penetrates the consumer market to the point of wide acceptance. The moves Apple is making to move quickly into the HD market is laudable even if it is premature for the mass market. With this release, unless the next release has 64 bit computing and offers me performance or capability increases because of it, I probably will not upgrade to iLife 06. I’ve got too much capability now I’m not using.

MISS- iWork holds almost no interest for me, other than as a piece of software to review. While I agree AppleWorks needed reworking, I have to question what Apple is trying to achieve with its release. Certainly, Apple does not need to alienate Microsoft and have it withdraw support for the Mac version of Office, though iWorks really doesn’t seem like much of a threat. Of course, there is the counter argument that Apple needs its own word processor in case Microsoft does withdraw support. I’m going to go take a look at iWorks at the Apple Store just to see what there is to it. We’re running Office 2004 for the Mac here. I have no need for it, though I know there will be many Mac users who will buy it just to get the last Microsoft product off their machines.

HIT-The iPod Shuffle will be the low cost MP3 player that will open the doors of the iTunes Music store even further. If my wife or I want an iPod to take walking or jogging, you can be the iPod shuffle will be it.

MISS-Final Cut Express HD is simply premature in bringing HD editing to the market. At this point, its prime mission in life will be to allow professional videographers and broadcasters to play with the Apple platform without sinking the full price of Final Cut Pro HD into the experiment. I’m not saying this product won’t sell. It will…to those people who want Final Cut Express anyway. I just don’t believe you’re going to see a significant increase in orders. I own both Final Cut Pro HD and Express 2.0 and see few reasons to upgrade FCE 2, though there are a few things about the new version that make it desirable.

Look for a review of iLife 05 as soon after the 22nd as I can get to it.